Bibliophile | One Man’s Wilderness

One Man’s Wilderness: An Alaska Odyssey by Sam Keith and Richard Proenneke.

Summary: This best-selling memoir from Richard Proenneke’s journals and with firsthand knowledge of his subject and the setting, Sam Keith has woven a tribute to a man who carved his masterpiece out of the beyond. To live in a pristine land unchanged by man . . . to roam a wilderness through which few other humans has passed . . . to choose an idyllic site, cut trees by hand, and build a log cabin. . . to be self-sufficient craftsman, making what is needed from materials available…to be not at odds with the world, but content with one’s own thoughts, dreams and company. Thousands have had such dreams, but Richard Proenneke lived them. This book is a moving account of the day-to-day explorations and activities Dick carried out alone….alone in the wilderness…and the constant chain of nature’s events that kept him company.

Personal opinion: I read this book while in Alaska, having ridden a motorcycle-sidecar from Oregon to the wild Northern land. Wrestling with obstacles, nestled among the massively rugged mountains, resting along the banks of the mighty Matanuska River, I devoured every word. I related to Richard and his desire to get away and test himself. I found him humble, honest and interesting. In many ways I want to be him. It’s a quick read, full of easily digestible accounts of a personal adventure.

Read this book if: You’ve ever dreamt of living off the land, going into the wild, testing yourself and/or homesteading. Recommended for those who enjoy first hand accounts of adventure, survival and testing personal limits. Richard’s narrative will have you ready to sell everything and head to Alaska.

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Favorite Passages:

The most exciting part of the whole adventure was putting self-reliance on trial. (p.22)

Learn to use an axe and respect it and you can’t help but love it. Abuse one and it will wear your hands raw and open your foot like an overcooked sausage. (p.24)

Needs? I guess that is what bothers so many folks. They keep expanding their needs until they are dependent on too many things and too many other people…I wonder how many things in the average American home could be eliminated if the question were asked, “Must I really have this?”

Funny thing about comfort – one man’s comfort is another man’s misery. (p.209)

I have learned patience, learned to take my time and try to do a job right by first figuring it out. No sense to rushing and going off half cocked; there’s plenty of time out here. (p.210)

Nature provides so many things if one has the eye to notice them. It is a pleasure to see what you can use instead of buying it all packaged and ready-made.

I do think a man has missed a very deep feeling of satisfaction if he has never created or at least completed something with his own two hands…There is definitely a need and a place for teamwork, but there is also a need for an individual sometime in his life to forget the world of parts and pieces and put something together on his own – complete something. He’s got to create. (p.211)

I thought of the sights I had seen. The price was physical toll. Money does little good back here. It could not buy the fit feeling that surged through my arms and shoulders. It could not buy the feeling of accomplishment. I had been my own tour guide, and my own power had been my transportation. This great big country was my playground, and I could afford the price it demanded. (p.207)

It was good to be back in the wilderness again where everything seems at peace. I was alone. It was a great feeling – a stirring feeling. Free once more to plan and do as I pleased. Beyond was all around me. The dream was a dream no longer.

I suppose I was here because this was something I had to do. Not just dream about it but do it. I suppose, too, I was here to test myself, not that I had never done before, but this time it was to me a more thorough and lasting examination.

What was I capable of that I didn’t know yet? What about my limits? Could I truly enjoy my own company for an entire year? Was I equal to everything this wild land could throw at me? I had seen it’s moods in late spring, summer and early fall, but what about winter? Would I love the isolation then, with its bone-stabbing cold, its brooding ghostly silence, its forced confinement? At age fifty-one I intended to find out. (p.21)

Remember: No matter the age, we get to choose. The option of going on a quest and seeking adventure is available throughout life. Perhaps especially in this digital day and age, there is a human necessity to embrace physical strain and take on discomfort. It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it.

Ponder: Is it possible to bring this self-challenging and growth-inducing attitude to everyday life? Must we head into the middle of nowhere alone to really test ourselves?

Bibliophile | Travels with Charley